Professor Meilin Liu Awarded $1M Grant from U.S. Department of Energy to Develop New Fuel Cell Technology

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Projects aims to utilize methane fuel cells for distributed power generation and storage

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Meilin Liu, Regents' Professor and Associate Chair in the School of Materials Science and Engineering, has received a prestigious Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to expand work with fuel cells. ARPA-E’s new Reliable Electricity Based on Electrochemical Systems (REBELS) program, recognizes researchers with high-potential, high-impact, pre-commercial projects in fuel cell technologies for distributed power systems. Dr. Liu’s project utilizes methane, a cheap and abundant natural gas, to develop more efficient, lower-temperature and cost-effective fuel cells for grid-level power-generation. Liu’s project was awarded $1 million and was one of only 13 new projects selected nationwide.

“Georgia Tech has a long-standing reputation for excellence in materials science and engineering,” said Materials Science and Engineering School Chair Dr. Naresh Thadhani. “Dr. Liu’s ARPA-E project presents an exciting opportunity for our program to have an even broader impact in solving challenges of great societal importance.”

Fuel cells convert the chemical energy of a fuel source into electrical energy and are optimal for distributed power generation systems, which generate power close to where it is used. Though fuel cells have been viewed as a potential eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, durability, performance, and cost have been barriers to widespread commercial use of fuel cells. Over the last decade, research advances have improved many of the materials and engineering challenges contributing to fuel cells’ cost and performance issues. But these research efforts have been primarily focused on exploring technologies that either operate at high temperatures (600°C or higher) for grid-scale applications or low temperatures (180°C) for vehicle technologies.

Liu’s project will focus on developing fuel cell devices that operate in an intermediate temperature range (200-500°C). The fuel cells will directly process methane and will use nanocomposite electrolytes that enable the fuel cells to operate at lower temperatures and utilize lower-cost materials to produce, store, and distribute power. Designed for household application, the fuel cells offer a viable low-cost, high-performance solution for mass distributed power generation and storage.

 “Methane fuel cells are particularly well-suited for household use because homes are already equipped to run on natural gas,” said Liu. “The fuel cell would just replace the water heater or furnace and enable families to power their homes without connecting to the grid, which offers a cleaner, more efficient energy option.”

Tim Lieuwen, director of the Strategic Energy Institute, said distributed power generation solutions such as Liu’s offer great promise in mitigating many of the challenges associated centralized generation.

“In our current centralized approach, electricity is primarily produced at large generation facilities and often require long transmission distances that can result in power losses and leave lines vulnerable to disruption during inclement weather or natural disasters,” said Lieuwen.

Liu is also a collaborator on another ARPA-E fuel cell project with The University of California – Los Angeles.


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Georgia Tech Materials Institute

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distributed power generation and storage, energy ARPA-E, Fuel Cell, materials
  • Created By: Allison Caughey
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Jun 23, 2014 - 9:51am
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:16pm